The Hemlock Society USA was a national right-to-die organization founded in Santa Monica, California by Derek Humphry in 1980. Its primary missions included providing information to dying persons and supporting legislation permitting physician-assisted dying. In 1992, following the publication of his book Final Exit, Derek Humphry left the leadership of Hemlock Society USA. In 2003 the national organization renamed itself, and a year later merged with another group into a newly formed national organization called Compassion & Choices. A number of unaffiliated local organizations continue to operate under variants of the Hemlock Society name.
In 1998, the Hemlock Society began a program called 'Caring Friends' which provided members with support and guidance, nationwide, if they were terminally ill and asking for help to die. The program expanded on work being done in Washington State and Oregon by Compassion In Dying Federation. Its staff included Dr. Richard MacDonald, Hemlock's medical director, Faye Girsh, executive director, Wye Hale-Rowe and Lois Schafer. Strict guidelines were put in place to protect Caring Friends from legal problems, and it had none.
Hemlock backed legislative efforts in California, Washington, Michigan, and Maine without success until the Oregon Death with Dignity Act was passed in 1994. Hemlock infused (under IRS rules) a total of $992,210 on six campaigns.
Past Hemlock Society USA presidents included Gerald A Larue, Derek Humphry, Sidney D Rosoff, Wiley Morrison, Arthur Metcalfe, John Westover, Faye J Girsh. Past executive directors included Derek Humphry (1980–1992), John A Pridonoff (1993–1995), Helen Voohis (acting 1995-1996), Faye J Girsh (1996–2000).
The organization changed it's name to End of Life Choices in 2002 and merged with Compassion In Dying Federation in 2003 to become Compassion & Choices. Several supporters of the Hemlock Society started Final Exit Network in 2004 and have sustained chapters in Chicago, San Diego and central Florida.
"In the United States, the Hemlock Society alone had grown to 57,000 paid members with eighty-six chapters. And for every paying members, there were a hundred more people who shared the same beliefs. The self-deliverance genie had been forever freed from its bottle and had taken on a robust, self-sustaining life of its own."
"Whatever downside there may be to Hemlock, if claims of being open to dialogue and striving for tolerance are justified on this side of the divide, the negatives may well be outweighed by the positives."
"Those who have some indecision may have benefited from remarks by Bishop John Shelby Spong in a keynote address to the Hemlock Society USA conference in San Diego on January 10, 2003."
"When the votes [in California] were counted after the November 3, 1992 election, Initiative #161 had failed to pass by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin. Although the narrow defeat marked a temporary setback for Hemlock Society USA and its supporters, the fact that 5,500,000 voters had marked yes on their ballots was encouraging for the future."
"Early in 1986 the Hemlock Society, then based in California, proposed amendments to the 1976 [Living Will] law that would have included 'aid in dying' and it urged [Senator] Keene to include it in a revised bill. He declined."
"On the other side of the battle line, the coalition [for California Prop. #161] included numerous Protestant denominations, organized labor, the state Democratic party, AIDS activists, the Grey Panthers, and, of course, the Hemlock Society."